PUBLISHED: 06:20 10 November 2014
After a rollercoaster year The Hoste is very much open for business, as we drop in for Sunday lunch.
It’s fair to say it has been a mixed year for The Hoste. During a £2 million redevelopment of the iconic north Norfolk establishment – no doubt a far from easy period in the life of a busy restaurant, hotel, spa and pub – it had a visit from council inspectors who gave it a one out of five food hygenie rating. Three months later the inspectors from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk returned and this time gave the new kitchens the highest rating – five out of five.
Owners Brendan and Bee Hopkins, who bought the hotel two years ago, must have experienced something of a rollercoaster ride of a summer – but then these are the very experienced couple who former owner Jeanne Whittome declared “the right people” to take on the well known and loved boutique hotel at Burnham Market that she and her late husband, Paul Whittome, had created. The Hoste became a magnet for TV personalities like Amanda Holden and Anneka Rice, and helped shape the development of the Burnhams as a favourite north Norfolk destination. Taking it on in 2012, Bee had been a consultant with major hotel groups and worked with tourist boards, travel and tour companies, while Brendan was previously the chief executive of one of Australia’s largest media companies.
In the Whittomes’ days you wouldn’t have expected to be able to book a table at the weekend with little notice, but we had no problem getting a booking for the Sunday lunch. However, the Garden Room, where we ate, adds a new 110-cover dining area that opens on to the walled garden where many diners had opted to enjoy the autumnal sunshine, so do expect more availability. This lovely, light room, decorated in gentle tones and with its own entrance at the side of the hotel, makes for relaxed informal dining, though take a detour through the more quirkily furnished areas of the bar and hotel to see the Tottering illustrations and sculpture at the bar by the brilliant Norfolk-based cartoonist Annie Tempest.
Service at our table was initially swift and attentive, though between courses and after the meal we did spend a while trying to catch the eye of the waiters. Expect also to wait around half an hour for your meal, as dishes are cooked fresh to order (certainly no hardship for the diner!)
The menu is packed with dishes that feature the produce of local suppliers – many within 30 miles of the hotel – think Richard Loose’s Brancaster oysters, Letzer Seafood’s lobster, salmon, eel and kippers, cured meats from Marsh Pig, soft fruit from Sharrington, saugages, bacon and black pudding from Perfick Pork, fish and shellfish from Coles of King’s Lynn and, of course, Mrs Temple’s cheeses.
Our choices were the baked Feta cheese with Raita salad, toasted pitta bread, red onion, oregano, mint and vine tomatoes; Nelson beer battered cod with minted pea puree, triple cooked chips and tartare sauce, and traditional roast beef.
With each dish it was a pleasure to be able to experience good, fresh ingredients.
The baked Feta was a sizable portion, served on top of the pittas, salad and seasonings. Characteristically flavoursome, this was simple yet effective treatment of the ingredients.
The beef too was rich in taste, cooked well with a good portion of vegetables including mashed swede and carrots, roast potatoes and broccoli cooked lightly enough to have some crunch. The cod, deep in portion and beautifully flaky, was rather too thickly coated in batter though the triple cooking did for the chips perfectly.
Our dessert choices were the hearty sticky toffee pudding which came with a crisp pecan nut tuile, butterscotch sauce and the lovely counterbalance of vanilla ice cream, and a real treat of a strawberry and passion fruit Eton mess which was light and refreshing rather than over-sweet which can sometimes be too much.
Although a decent and enjoyable lunch, we did feel that something of the sprinkling of star quality that had set The Hoste aside as “an experience” was missing.
Expect to pay
Meet the chef
James O’Connor, head chef
James has more than 10 years experience working as head chef in two-rosette restaurants nationwide. He joined the Malmaison group in Cambridge as head chef, before moving to work at the St Moritz hotel in Rock, Cornwall. James returned to his Norfolk roots in 2013 when he joined the Hoste ago as executive head chef. James plans to gain a third AA-rosette for The Hoste restaurants.
The Hoste Arms, The Green, Burnham Market, PE31 8HD; 01328 738777; www.thehoste.com